Me and my friend whiskey

I'm a habitual drinker.

I'm drinking while I write this. As with most nights, I'm at my desk, a class of whiskey to my left, this keyboard and monitor in front of me. I will probably spend most of my time blogging when I should really be working on the bajillion books and short stories I have in various stages of completion. But blogging is infinitely easier and I don't have to convince anyone other than myself to publish it.

For what it's worth, I'm drinking Redemption Rye on the rocks from a Jameson's Irish Whskey glass.

I'm not an alcoholic. I would imagine that would be where most people's minds would go after reading that first line. I've had that discussion with a trained professional. I've never gotten black out drunk. I've never had a drink in the morning to get right. I've never shirked my responsibilities so I could drink.

In fact, I usually don't have a drink until around 9 o'clock at night because that's when my son has fallen asleep and even then that's only if my wife is home, as every once in a while she'll have to work late. I don't drink a drop unless the day is done. I am an unbelievably responsible drinker given how often I do it.

Drinking for me is a habit, one that has me around its finger.

I associate drinking with a lot of positive things, which is saying a lot given that my uncle drank himself to death. 

I fully admit that whiskey has been a way for me to cope with the things that I don't want to cope with.

But through the various ups and downs of drinking, in the end it has always been my way of relaxing, my way to shut myself off so that I can enjoy myself.

I am constantly at war with myself and alcohol creates peace.

A secondary problem is the fact that I've been drinking for about an hour now and the above line just came to me and I really, really like it and legitimately wonder if I could have come up with it stone cold sober. I think I could have. But I don't know.

I have always used alcohol to relax, to escape the part of my brain that prevents me from doing any number of things that I want to do. It is easier for me to write when I've been drinking because my mind doesn't wander as much, I have an easier time accessing the part of my brain that feels complete when I write, and I become less concerned with the world around me.

That last point is crucial. I think too much. I think way, way too much. I don't sleep, although at this point that's less to do with how much I think and more to do with the fact that my body has become accustomed to going to bed under the influence.

My habit has become more pronounced since I became a parent. That time once my son has gone to sleep and before I do is precious. It's when I am free to do what I want and what I want is to be able to relax, either for the sake of doing nothing or to write. And so I have a drink.

But I am well aware that this is a habit and it has become a point of contention for me. Aside from the obvious health issues (although I generally don't have more than a single drink each night [although I should point out that my drinks are roughly twice the size of a regular drink]), there's the simple fact that I hate that anything has any kind of control over me. I hate that at a certain point during the night I want to have a drink and I have to fight with myself about it.

I recently got sick yet again, so I went weeks without drinking, although I was still using relaxing agents in the form of cough medicine. At a certain point it was no longer necessary for my cough, so I stopped, and actually started going to bed chemical free. I had troubles falling asleep, but I was so tired from being sick that it wasn't as bad as it usually was. I was also going to bed earlier, which meant I could still get a decent night's sleep even if it took me a while to doze off.

At the tail end of my illness, I told Nicole that, if I started drinking every night and staying up late, to remind me of how good I felt now that I was getting some sleep. It's true; I felt great. It wasn't just that I no longer felt drowsy at various points throughout the day, it's that I felt happier.

It wasn't just the extra sleep that had changed me. Because I was sick, it gave me an excuse to not put pressure on myself to accomplish anything at night. It gave me permission to sit in front of the TV watching old episodes of shows I loved while reading comics and YA books.

I was finally able to relax.

But now I'm more or less better and I've returned to normal life and I find myself facing the same issues as before: I want to have a drink at night. I want to be able to relax and enjoy myself. I want to be able to write without thinking it's pointless.

The funny thing is that I'm actually great at rationalizing most things in my life, yet those few hours at night mess with my head.

It's Friday night as I finish writing this. My son is asleep. Nicole is asleep. Tomorrow is my morning to sleep in. I'm having a glass of Jack Daniels and I'm writing. This is only the second time I've had a drink this week, so I feel good about that.

I'm struggling with acceptance. There's hasn't been a night when I haven't thought that I should just have a drink and hide out in my office like I used to do. There hasn't been a night when I haven't felt bad about not doing anything, not using my time constructively, and there hasn't been a night where I haven't felt bad about feeling bad.

But tonight is the one night where I'm able to have a drink with no regrets. Tomorrow night I will endeavor to relax without one. Hopefully, slowly but surely, I can finally break this habit, and be all the happier for it.

I know that I don't need a drink to be happy; I just don't know if I need one to be content.

Parents: Use your phone as much as you fucking want

As much as it pains me to use the current hip vernacular, I'm going to: parent shaming.

At one point, I think the focus for parent shaming was screen time, as in how much time your child can spend staring at a screen of some kind. But there have been inconclusive scientific studies on that front, so it's not as sturdy as some other parent shaming options.

Diet? Sugar is the heroin of toddlers, after all.

Education? The best time to learn a second (or third!) language is at the age of two, you know.

Culture? Listening to an opera would be so much more stimulating than listening to the Cars soundtrack (again).

But, no, those options are somewhat narrowly targeted and, for many parents, easily avoidable. What, then? What is something that every parent does that can be ridiculed by those who wish to feel superior?

Cell phones.


You use your cell phone when your child is with you? That is shocking -- shocking, I say! Your child is going to think you care more about your cell phone than you do about your own precious little angel!

It is impressive how many parents take to the internet to rail away against the evils of using your cell phone when your child is present, pretending as if they're doing it to somehow help other parents. I can't imagine a single parent reads these articles and suddenly changes their ways. No, they're written so the writer can feel superior.

I know full well how tempting it is to use a device as a baby sitter. I also know that there are other toys which can do roughly the same thing while allowing your child to control the creativity. That said, I don't begrudge anyone who's in a position where a device is their best option. I know too many single parents to think that a tablet can't be a life saver.

But let's get back to parents using cell phones.

I understand the basic concept behind the complaint, the idea that kids will think that they are less deserving of your attention because you are looking at your phone all the time. But consider that thought. Think about how much the average parent has to do with their child over the course of any given day. It would be physically impossible to spend more time on your device than interacting with your child. They are tiny tyrants who need you to survive. A cell phone isn't going to dress them or take them to school or get them to bed. A cell phone isn't going to comfort them when they get hurt or help them through some strong emotions. We have few moments that aren't controlled by these kids and very, very few of those moments can be solved by cell phones.

So if your kid is playing and you decide to check Facebook, where, exactly, is the harm? If your child needs you, you're there. But your child doesn't always need you and, honestly, it's probably good for them to realize that. "Hey, child of mine, you're doing fine on your own and I trust that you can scoop sand into a bucket without me watching you like a hawk, so you do your thing, I'll be right over here if you need me."

The crazy thing about it is that if there's another parent shaming method out there, it's the "helicopter parent" who is always hovering around their child, never letting the kid do things on their own.

So if it's bad for us to follow our kids around and obsessive over them and it's bad for us to do other things while we're with our kids, then what, exactly, are we supposed to do?

I am overly sensitive about my son knowing how much he means to me. I tell him constantly. It's a whole thing. So at some point early on in his life I decided that if I'm going to use my smart phone around him, I'm going to tell him why I'm doing it. I want him to understand why looking at this tiny screen would be something I would want to do while he's eating dinner or or watching cartoons.

So I say things like "let's see if mama has left work yet" or "let's see what the weather is going to be like" or "grandma sent me a message." I try to explain what social media is, but he does't seem to care. In fact, he doesn't really care about any of that, but I feel like telling him what I'm doing at least helps him realize that there's a purpose, that I'm not just looking at my phone for no reason.

I explained this to a therapist who works with children and she told me it was genius, so I'm running with it.

Here's the thing: being a parent is hard. I realize that's like complaining that your diamond shoes are too tight, but it is what it is. And sometimes you can only take so much Paw Patrol or so much doing funny voices before you need a break, and in today's day and age, a break is looking at your phone. And I don't think there's anything wrong with that.

So for those who are thinking about telling other parents they need to stop using their phones so much around their children: don't. Get off your high horse and just let a fellow parent be. We are all stumbling through this together and the last thing any of us needs is someone giving us shit for looking at Facebook while our kid is crashing cars into each other.

Go to town, parents. Use your phones as much as you want. I don't have the answers for that and I'm not stupid enough to think that I do.

Me and my fancy birth defect

Image by artist Robert Stokes

I was born with pectus escavatum. Go ahead and Google that if you want, but fair warning, any images you come across will be kind of gross. They're not upsetting by any means and gross might actually be overstating it, but it's a major physical birth defect, so you should have some idea of what you're getting into.

But I'll let the Mayo Clinic give the basics:

"Pectus excavatum is a condition in which a person's breastbone is sunken into his or her chest. In severe cases, pectus excavatum can look as if the center of the chest has been scooped out, leaving a deep dent.

While the sunken breastbone is often noticeable shortly after birth, the severity of pectus excavatum typically worsens during the adolescent growth spurt.

Also called funnel chest, pectus excavatum is more common in boys than in girls. Severe cases of pectus excavatum can eventually interfere with the function of the heart and lungs. But even mild cases of pectus excavatum can make children feel self-conscious about their appearance. Surgery can correct the deformity."

I had that surgery, when I was 5. It lasted 3 hours. They cut open my chest, pulled my breastbone forward, and sewed me up. Just writing about it puts pressure on my chest, like its ears are burning.

I've been thinking about my pectus escavatum a lot lately. I got sick again recently, and I say "again" because I have been sick an inordinate amount over the last 12 months, and every time it has been an upper respiratory issue. I had pneumonia and coughed so much that I fractured a rib. I've had bronchitis twice. I have been a mess. And while dealing with my most recent bout of bronchitis, one of my doctors mention that perhaps my abnormal chest might have something to do with it.

Yes, I had the surgery, but that was in 1980, and even today the idea that you can simply correct something like that so that it's totally normal is a stretch. My chest is substantially better, yes, but it's still abnormal.

And while many, many years of alcohol, carbs, and a sedentary lifestyle have contributed to the buddha I carry above my waist, it's amplified by my complete lack of a chest.

I've never spent much time thinking about my chest. I don't take my shirt off very often, I suppose because of it. Every once in a while I have to explain the scar that spans the width of my breastbone and the other scar, higher up on my chest, marking where they removed an excess lump of cartilage when I was 18. Very few people have ever noticed the tiny scars I still have where the tubes went in.

Thinking about it now hasn't changed my overall perspective as far as how being born with such a drastic defect has impacted me. I doubt that most people with such things really think about them.

But I am now realizing how hard this must have been on my parents.

I don't know how prominent the pectus escavatum was when I was born. I'm thinking it couldn't have been that drastic just given the general physical shape of a baby. It would have become more pronounced as a I got older.

It's not like this was an indentation in my leg or something: important organs live in your chest, important organs that needed room to grow.

As if the birth defect wasn't bad enough, my parents then had to sit through a 3+ hour surgery that involved cutting open their 5 year old son's chest. I can't even imagine what that had to have been like for them. I'm having a hard time just thinking about it.

When you have a kid, every little thing takes on new meaning. Things I haven't thought about in years have taken on new meaning. Things I do and see every day have taken on new meaning. Every single thing is different.

Like my fancy birth defect.

Discography: Fugazi, Part 8: The Argument

Twenty, thirty years from now, when the story of Fugazi is written by smarter people than me, they will probably point at "The Argument" as their crowning achievement, the culmination of their evolution as a band and the pinnacle of what they could do.  That would be hard to argue with.

I point to this: I had a friend who absolutely hated Fugazi, but loved this album.  This was Fugazi at a different level.  This was a band that produced "Red Medicine" and came through "End Hits" and ended up here.

This was a focused band.  The opening lets you know that this is going to be a journey.  "Cashout" is all about the vocals and a noise rock chorus that would make no sense coming from anyone else.

The verse on "Full Disclosure" has so much urgency you have no choice but to get swept up in it as it pulls you into a surprisingly poppy chorus, the likes of which would feel right at home on the alternative top 40.  Even crazier is the outro that follows the last chorus, like something ripped from 90s radio, as if Fugazi are finally acknowledging all their contemporaries.  Of course, they follow that section up with some good old fashion punk rock noise, a reminder that they cannot be pigeonholed.

"Epic Problem" is Ian McKaye's vocal stylings at their best.  The beauty is that he makes the lyrics a part of the song, a part of the actual structure of the music.  It helps that the music is great, with yet another 90s inspired section in the middle (I should probably point out that this album came out in 2001).  And then we get the outro, which is something right off of "13 Songs" with a little "Repeater" thrown in to finish it off. It's a little bit sing song, a little bit head bopping, and more upbeat than you would have expected given the beginning of the song.

Remember those things I said before about Guy's guitar style?  Welcome to "Life and Limb."  It's already a great song, but then you get to the center with this wonderful, quirky guitar solo over straight up pop music.  We come back to the moody stuff, of course, but that center section makes the rest even better.

You may have noticed a trend developing. There's an awful lot of pop music on this record, but it very often undercut, either by wedging it into more jagged parts or by layering it with discordant guitars. It's the perfect give and take for Fugazi, something that took them 7 albums to get to. These songs have the straight forward core of the best "In on the Killtaker" tracks with all the experimentation of the strangest "End Hits" songs.

When Joe Lally is singing you have an idea of the type of song you're going to get. "The Kill" fits right in.  It's ethereal, as most Lally sung songs are.  The song never explodes, never builds to anything, but it's a constant, mellow groove with a nice change from the verse to the chorus.

Let's just get right to it with "Strangelight" -- as interesting as the song is, it's what happens at the 4 minute mark that truly makes it great.  I don't even know what that note-y part is being played on (guitar doubled with keyboards? With a violin?) and the changing piano chords make it sound ominous.  It's wonderfully dissonant, yet darkly triumphant.

This could be the Fugazi album with the most mood changing moments in songs.  In this case, I'm talking about McKaye's vocals in "Oh," which is mostly sung by Guy.  But read back over my comments on the other songs on this album and the shift in tone is a regular theme.  Interestingly enough, the shift seems to frequently come at the end, a fitting microcosm of Fugazi's library of work.

"Ex-Spectator" has a wonderful, double drum opening.  The verse is sparse and the chorus is full and powerful, driven by McKaye's vocals.  What's really interesting about this song is how it almost seems like an answer to "Public Witness Program" from "In on the Killtaker."  Both songs seem to be about the dangers of not getting involved, but this song pulls the character forward.  The public witness can't stand on the sidelines any longer.

"Nightshop" is probably the clearest use of keyboards we've seen from Fugazi (at the two and a half minute mark), and they're used to excellent effect. We also treated to some acoustic guitars, as if the band decided they were going to jam all their non-traditional (for them) instruments into one song. This song makes me long for a new Fugazi record because it suggests that they were just beginning to experiment.

And now for "The Argument," theoretically the last song on the last Fugazi album.  It's everything you could hope for from a final song.  McKaye has said that the song is about how he will always be against war.  But he frames it as being a bigger argument that's generally not made.  The song itself would suggest that McKaye is calling out those who get bogged down in the small debates, who never see the forest from the trees: "that some punk could argue some moral abc's/when people are catching what bombers release."  It's an argument against the myopic.

It's also the perfect example of the evolution of the band.  The vocals are perhaps the pinnacle of what McKaye has managed to do over the years.  The song is fairly quiet and pretty, with a quixotic keyboard break.  And then it explodes.  It explodes in exactly the way you would want a Fugazi song to end, with heavy guitars from McKaye and a dynamic, catchy note-y part from Guy.  It's damn near perfect.

And then it's over.

If this is the last we ever hear from Fugazi....well, I'll still be sad about that, but they went out on a high note.

Happy birthday to my favorite person in the world

I spent a lot of time today thinking about writing this. This is what I do, right? When I need to express myself I write about it. I completely fail at verbalizing my feelings. I just lack that ability. But writing? Writing I can do. I can write about how I feel.

It's a little intimidating, though. When you read this it will be Nicole's birthday and I will buy her some gifts and we'll have dinner at her favorite restaurant and I will, at this point, have helped our nearly 4 year old son make something for her. And I know she'll love all of it because she's honestly just too good of a person not to.

But that isn't enough. No Italian food, no matter how good, can really convey what she means to me. The crazy mess of a gift that our son will make can tell her how much he loves her and the fact that I helped him make it can send a similar message, but it's still not enough.

I don't know what is.

I could talk about how much my life has improved since I met her, but that's placing the focus on me more than her. I mean, it's true, my life is infinitely better than it was before Nicole became a part of it. And it's true that only someone as amazing as her could have helped me along my way, but those details are filtered through a lens of me when I want to talk about her.

I could talk about how much she's changed since I met her because she has. I think part of that is my doing, but I think most of it is the fact that she's always growing. She wants to be a better person which is a bit insane given how great of a person she already is. But she doesn't realize that and even if she did I think she'd still try to be better. She's a perfectionist that way.

She's surprisingly not judgmental given she's such a perfectionist. Yes, she will often grade you on a curve if it involves something she feels strongly about, but even then it's never personal. She wants the best of everyone, especially herself, it's just that she's only ever able to see the best when it comes from other people.

She's puts all of herself into everything she does which, I have to admit, I'm jealous of. She has focus, even for things she might prefer not doing. She's often not even aware of this because it's her natural state of being.

She wants to do more. It doesn't matter what it is, she always wants to do more, she always feels like she has to do more.

She doesn't.

I think she actually allowed herself to just exist a bit more after we met.

It's funny to think that, if we were both asked, we'd both say that it was the other's confidence that pulled us in when we first met. I had never met anyone as confident as her and I think she was attracted to how confident I was. And yet neither of us was actually all that confident.

We learned that about each other over time. We understood each other. I've joked that my crazy balanced out her crazy but it's ultimately true.

I've watched as she's gone through as many emotional traumas as you can think of and she's come through all the stronger for them (even if she doesn't realize it). I've watched her basically restart her career and triumph. I've watched her become a mom and absolutely triumph. I married her and discovered a shared peacefulness that I didn't know existed.

She's genuine, which is not something you can say about many people these days. She legitimately cares about others. She is who she is; there's no pretense. She's passionate and funny and so, so smart. And she has empathy, perhaps the greatest gift anyone can have.

I can only speak to her life after she met me. I think her life before that was plenty full, if not missing something. I think she would have been happy had we never met, but I also think there would have been a ceiling on that happiness, a high point that she could never pass. And I think that every day since we met has broken that ceiling.

My brother was my best man and in his toast he mentioned that he knew Nicole was special to me because when she talked I actually listened. I didn't just pretend to listen or half listen while I thought about what I was going to say in return, I actually paid attention to what she was saying. And my brother was right. Nicole teaches me, although I often don't even realize it's happening.

So much of writing this has made me realize how difficult having a kid is. Time is so precious and when you have a kid you begin to short hand everything. I don't listen to Nicole the way that I used to and that is something I have to change. She looks at the world slightly differently than I do and it's a perspective that could help me if I only choose to hear it.

She makes me better and she makes me want to be better, not out of some feeling of obligation to her, but by example. And I like to think that I help her realize that it's sometimes okay to not be better.

I wish we had more time to spend together and I wish that that more time came with clearer minds so we could enjoy it. We're working on it. This is the downside to having two completely dedicated parents. This is the downside of two people with brains that never stop.

Yet that's why we work. For as much as she will talk about my crazy brain, hers is just as energetic, running at a mile a minute, going this way and that. But I understand it, so we're able to make our two brains work to our advantage.

Looking back on the above, I don't think I've managed to truly express how much I love Nicole or how phenomenal she is. But I don't have to. This is just my attempt at doing so, one singular moment in time where I will either succeed or fail. But I will have many, many more moments and at some point I will get it right.

For now I will just say "happy birthday" to my favorite person in the world. I love you so much that it has nearly driven me insane.

But just "nearly."

Discography: Fugazi, Part 7: Instrument

It became fitting that Fugazi released an album of outtakes (and documentary) when they did.  The band had already gone their separate ways and were making music together less and less frequently.  The writing should have been on the wall.

It's hard to call "Instrument" an actual album, as it's not.  It is exactly what it sold itself as: a collection of outtakes.  Sadly, most of those outtakes aren't particularly interesting.  It actually goes a long way to confirming that the band is the bunch of lo-fi, regular guys that everyone thought they were.  "Instrument" is filled with the type of junk that is being recorded in every basement in America.  This is Fugazi showing us that they're no different.  They record every single thing they think sounds good, too, even if they realize after the fact that it's crap.

In their defense, there are some gems on this record, some bits and pieces that I would have loved to have seen as complete songs.

The "Apreggiator" demo is interesting given how much they increased the speed for the recorded version, which was a smart decision. 

"Afterthought" introduces us to Fugazi using keyboards and it become apparent over the course of this album that they could have done great things with keyboards. Why they never did more, I don't know, but between this song and "Little Debbie" it was clear they could have produced something great incorporating keyboards.

"Trio's" is darkly atmospheric, more so than anything else the band has recorded, which is probably part of the reason it never materialized on an album.  "Turkish Disco" is the first track that sounds like a relatively complete song, so much so that I wonder why it didn't end up on another record. 

The question about keyboards is also applicable to piano, an instrument Fugazi used as window dressing in the past, but never as the focus for a song. "I'm So Tired" suggests that they should have placed it front and center for at least a few tracks.

The demos for "Rend It," "Closed Caption," and "Guilford Fall" are interesting enough for big Fugazi fans. The "Rend It" demo is great given how drastically the song changed over time.

"Swingset" has a fantastic verse, but the attempt at a chorus makes it clear why it's an outtake.

"Shaken All Over" is basically just a recording of Joe playing a bass line.

"Slow Crostic" is exactly what it says: a slower version of "Caustic Acrostic." This particular track is noteworthy because it's the basis for a song on the Wugazi album, a mash-up of Fugazi and the Wu-Tang Clan.

In the end, "Instrument" is a collection of songs for only the biggest of Fugazi fans.  It's great as a glimpse inside the creative process, but doesn't offer much beyond that. It is, to be honest, an odd duck of a release. Nothing about this record suggests that it needed to see the light of day, yet here we are.

It really just kind of mucks up the Fugazi library.

25 Years Ago I Joined a High School Rock Band

"How would you like to be closer to Eddie Vedder?"

Honestly, I thought Jeremy was going to tell me he had tickets and backstage pass for a Pearl Jam concert.  Credit where it's due, he chose the exact right thing to say to pique my interest.

Twenty-five years ago today, when high school let out for the weekend, my friend Brett and I went to a house on the other side of town, walked down into the basement, and met Jeremy and the three other members of a then unnamed band.  Brett had brought his guitar because he wanted to jam with them.  I was there to audition as the lead singer.

That is ultimately hilarious because a) it sounds like they were a big time band looking to replace a member and b) I couldn't really sing.

Jeremy was the drummer.  He was a junior like I was and I would have considered him a friend even then.  I recognized the other three -- they'd all gone to the same elementary school as me.  Tony was the bass player.  Matt played one guitar.  Rob, whose dad's basement we were in, played the other guitar.

I was a tall, skinny, socially awkward soccer player who was obsessed with grunge and alternative music.  They were of various sizes, engaged in various activities at school, were obsessed with Ned's Atomic Dustbin, and were, I think they'll agree, nearly as socially awkward.

My audition consisted of singing "Somebody to Shove" by Soul Asylum.  It had to have been awful, but I'm going to guess that the PA system we were using wasn't good enough for them to notice.  And so, Rob stuck his hand out and asked me if I wanted to be in the band.  And we shook on it.

Up until that point, high school was not particularly fun or easy for me.  It would not have been a stretch to say that Brett was the only constant friend I had.  I played soccer and I was pretty good, but I was too weird to really be a part of that social group.  I was smart, but I was far too lazy and unfocused to be in any academic groups or cliques.  I spent most of my time in my room reading and writing fantasy fiction.

To say that I was unsure of my place in the world would have been an understatement.

In no time at all, the band, Oral Groove (usually written in all lower case letters ala e.e. cummings), became almost everything to me.  It set me on a path that I'm still on, one that I never would have started along if it weren't for that band.

It wasn't just the band that changed me, it was the friends that suffered through every show.  We jokingly referred to them as the Oral Groupies (Anne and J-Sully, in particular, deserve a special shout-out here), but they weren't really there for the music so much as to support us.

We were in the trenches of adolescence and we did everything you would imagine high school kids would do.  We formed our own clique.  I had a few other friends and I did a few other things, but in the end everything revolved around the band.

A lot has changed over the last twenty-five years.  The band members themselves are scattered across four separate states.  Our large, extended family has created larger, extended families.  Some of us kept playing, some of moved on, but eventually each of us set on to our individual paths.  That didn't involve being rock stars, but that was never really the point.

I would be a very different person today if I hadn't joined Oral Groove.  I don't know, exactly, who that person would have been, but I can guarantee that I would not have liked him as much.

And I guarantee you he wouldn't have been as happy.

Discography: Fugazi, Part 6: End Hits

"End Hits" deserves the shit that it's gotten from Fugazi fans, but that doesn't stop it from being a great album.

If "Red Medicine" was the beginning of a new era for the band, "End Hits" is them pushing the envelope of that era, seeing what the limits are.  It's as if they were pleasantly surprised by the music they discovered they could make on the last album and now they were cautiously seeing if it actually suited them.

"Break" is the perfect first song for this album.  It's got a classic Fugazi groove layered underneath this relaxed, almost jazzy clean guitar part -- and is that piano I hear?  It sure is, this time used as an instrument and not as a vehicle for noise (as with the last album).  McKaye's vocals in the center, when it's just him and a single guitar, are strange, but still fit the song perfectly.

Follow that up with classic Guy rocker, "Place Position" and you've got the makings of a fantastic new school Fugazi record, albeit one that seems definable.  But you'd be getting ahead of yourself.

Joe Lally always seems to sing on the more atmospheric songs and "Recap Modotti" is no exception.  We're venturing into stoner rock territory here, which is shocking, given that none of them are stoners.  Even the teases of a build up ultimately don't pay off.  Not that there's anything wrong with that, it's just not something you'd expect from Fugazi...which is something you should get used to over the course of this album.

And while we're on the subject of weird song arrangements, here comes "No Surprises."

But then, like the parting of rain clouds, we get "Five Corporations," a fantastic example of how new Fugazi can still rock out like old Fugazi, but with more complex music.  And we've even got that trademark Fugazi anti-establishment going on.  Seriously, that tempo change for the chorus is unbelievable, particularly when it's followed by just bass, drums, and vocals for the verse.

"Caustic Acrostic" is a great song, a modern day Guy-style Fugazi song.  You could tell, since Red Medicine, that Guy had gotten away from playing chords.  I have to think that was a response to Ian McKaye's style of guitar, whose riffs and palm muting were more often a hammer than a scalpel. Guy's style evolved out of necessity and it made them a better band.

Things get weird again after "Caustic Acrostic."  "Close Caption" and "Floating Boy" are spacey, atmospheric jams that push the boundaries of traditional song structure.  They're glorious little oddities amongst the larger Fugazi library, wonderful experiments by a band that is no longer bound by a static sound. Most Fugazi fans I know hate these songs.

We bounce back with "Foreman's Dog," which is surprisingly straight forward for this album.  It kind of reminds me of something to be found on "Steady Diet," yet with a better sound.  And speaking of straight forward, then we get "Arpeggiator" which is ostensibly just a scale, but somehow Fugazi makes it great.

"Guilford Falls" feels like another new school Guy song, with an initial hook that is made up of picking each string rather than strumming chords.  It's also got the classic Fugazi "introduce a new part by having just one guitar play it, then everyone eventually kicks in."  Again, it's a complex song with layered guitars and an interesting structure, but it still has some classic Fugazi qualities.

 And then we hit "Pink Frosty."  It is possible there's no more maligned Fugazi song in their catalog than "Pink Frosty."  It's understandable: it's barely a song.  It sounds like someone took some drugs and mixed an outtake for the album.  It's completely insubstantial, which would be much less of a problem if it weren't more than four minutes long.

It's hard to figure out what Fugazi is doing here. They obviously liked "Pink Frosty" enough to put it on the album, but does it have a thematic purpose? Is it meant as a palate cleanser before the big finale? The album is 13 tracks long so it's not like this needed to be on there to fill it out. Or was this an attempt at creating a balance with their first record, just in case this ended up being their last?

The last song on "End Hits," "F/D" is bizarre, but it's only bizarre because it appears to be two completely different songs smashed on to the same track.  What's really interesting about it is that it's a clear breakdown between an Ian song and a Guy song.  The very quiet opening features a straightforward chord progression with McKaye's rhyme-y punk rock vocals and an up tempo drum beat.  But there's a break and then the Guy song comes crashing down, full of dramatic guitar and vocals.  Yet for the twangy, high end guitar part, buried underneath it is a simple, driving guitar part that is, again, classic McKaye.

After a few seconds of silence when the song ends, we get outtakes from "No Surprises," like a reminder that this album was all about experimentation.

"Red Medicine" was a much more together album, but "End Hits" was a clear bridge to where Fugazi was headed. This record felt like Fugazi preparing for the end, but not quite there yet.

Discography: Fugazi, Part 5: Red Medicine

"Red Medicine" was the first Fugazi album I ever bought when it was released.  Up until this point, I'd been playing catch up.

There's a decent argument to be made that this is their best album.  It's certainly the first salvo of the band taking their songwriting to the next level.

Right from the start, something is different.  There's the energy we're used to.  It opens with some crazy noise, but that's not too surprising.  But are those...clean guitars?  And it's an up tempo song?  And is that a guitar solo (loosely defined, sure)?

And it's like Fugazi knows this might seem strange to you and they challenge you right in the song.  "I've got a question/how/do you like me?"

We are Fugazi and we've taken it to the next level!

"Bed for the Scraping" is classic Fugazi with a new Fugazi twist.  Groovestastic bass/drums, Ian McKaye grunting, but the guitar work is sharper and more layered than what we've seen before.  This is a new kind of punk rock anthem, but still has all the old school energy.

"Latest Disgrace" says "remember those weird noises at the beginning of this album?  That was just a taste."  The first half of the song is bizarre, as if the guitars have been tuned differently, and everything besides Guy's voice is muted, particularly the barely there drums by Canty.  Oh, and Guy goes falsetto at one point.  But then it all collapses into the kind of straight forward rocking we expect of Fugazi, it just has more power now, because it's got new context.

"Birthday Pony" seems like it should sound like an old Fugazi song, but the production has changed it.  The palm muting, the big chorus -- this should be "13 Songs" era Fugazi.  But the big chorus isn't just big this time around, it's full.  There's a texture there that we haven't seen before.  And you're beginning to realize that Ian and Guy are pushing each other when it comes to vocals.  They're going into uncharted territory.

"Forensic Scene" is an instant classic.

And then we hit the weird stuff.

"Combination Lock" is probably the most "jam" feeling instrumental Fugazi has ever released.  It feels like a song they're just jamming on one day.  "Fell, Destroyed" could be a June of '44 song.  "By You" is a crazy wall of sound with these mellow vocals by Joe Lally.  "Version" is yet another instrumental, but this one features a clarinet...oh, and the bass line from another song on the album (which we haven't gotten to yet).  It's almost like an undecipherable remix of a song that comes later on the record.

We return to more straight forward, yet no less creative, Fugazi rock with "Target."  Yet again, though, there are guitars that are strikingly not distorted, and yet the urgency of the music hasn't lessened at all.  There's even the classic Fugazi palm mute a part by itself, then play it full blown with the rest of the band, yet it all feels much bigger.  Just listen to the guitars on "Back to Base."  We've never heard anything like that on a Fugazi record.  It's epic.  And "Downed City" is much the same, just more frenetic.  It's wonderful.

I love "Long Distance Runner."  In a lot of ways, it epitomizes "new" Fugazi.  We've got this full, kind of notey, two guitar bit, then some bass/drums action (with appropriate level of guitar noise), and a spectacular level of loud quiet loud.  It's also works as the perfect metaphor for the band: they are long distance runners.  They are constantly moving forward.  They have yet to get stuck because they can't stop.  "And if I stop to catch my breath/might catch a piece of death."  No two Fugazi albums have sounded the same.  No two Fugazi albums will ever sound the same, because they are still running.

I'm convinced that one of the members of Fugazi has synesthesia, because I have synesthesia and the majority of these songs are red to me ("Birthday Pony" and "Do You Like Me" are yellow).  I think one of them saw the same thing when it came time to name this album.

At this point, "Red Medicine" became my second favorite Fugazi record. I don't know that anything could dethrone "Repeater" from the top spot. "Red Medicine" would ultimately fall to #3 on my list, though, when it was all said in done. But which of the remaining records knocked it down?

Discography: Fugazi, Part 4: In on the Killtaker

If there was a darkness about "Steady Diet of Nothing," "In on the Killtaker" was Fugazi exorcising it.

"Killtaker" alternately features the most aggressive and, up until that point, the most beautiful songs Fugazi had recorded.

If you were unsure what you were going to get after "Steady Diet of Nothing," you knew from the first song, "Facet Squared."  Open with some playful guitar noises, lay down a nice bass/drums groove, then explode into a driving, closed fist punch of a song, complete with McKaye's forceful, grunting vocals.  This is a Fugazi that will not be ignored, something that was easy to do on the last album.  They're not holding back this time around.

Still unsure?  Welcome to "Public Witness Program."  They're in full on attack mode now, yet the vocals are only getting more and more catchy.  The guitar interplay at around the 1:15 mark lets you know that this energy isn't for show; you're going to get Fugazi's all on this record, and nothing less.

Then we get the first wild card: "Returning the Screw."  It's quiet and sparse, but McKaye's vocals tell you that there's something boiling underneath the surface.  And when it explodes -- and does it ever -- you realize that the energy from the first two songs is still here, just less frantic and more powerful.

I could go on and on about "Smallpox Champion," but it would just be sad because I love the hell out of that song.  When they move into the second half of the song, I get goosebumps.

And that's just the first four songs!  I haven't even gotten to "Rend It," "Sweet and Low," "Walken's Syndrome," or, perhaps the best song on the album and the best "slow" song Fugazi has ever recorded, "Last Chance for a Slow Dance."  This was clearly a band on a mission.

From what I remember, "In on the Killtaker" was a point of contention with Fugazi fans. There was a very clear divide between those who loved it and those who hated it. But I don't think I've ever heard a cogent argument from those who hated it beyond "It's not Fugazi," which makes no sense.

Is this record a change of pace for the band? I guess. But it's clearly a part of their evolution. You don't get to "In on the Killtaker" without the three albums that came before it.

I think this was the Rubicon for Fugazi. This was the record where they discovered their sound. That's not to say they didn't move forward on future records because they most certainly did, but this is the album that got them to that very Fugazi place, a combination of dynamics, intricate song writing, that incredible rhythm section, a phenomenal duel guitar attack, and some next level vocals from both singers.

Stylistically, this could be called the "outro" album, as this is when Fugazi really found their "outro" game. This would become a calling card for the band: a brand new part to a song that only comes at the end. The aforementioned "Smallpox Champion" is a great example of this, but a lot of the songs on this record have them.

This is perhaps the first Fugazi record that fully embraced the "loud quiet loud" style, although it's admittedly modified to better suit the band. Still, the dynamics on this record are certainly amplified. If you really wanted to reduce this album, you could call it "emo," although it's really not.

"Last Chance for a Slow Dance" was probably the song that created the divide among Fugazi fans, although I don't know that for certain. Every Fugazi album has a "slow" song, so to speak, from "Promises" to "Shut the Door" to "Long Division." All three of those are fairly unconventional as far as "slow" songs are concerned. "Last Chance" is much more produced and, yes, Guy Picciotto's vocals do, indeed, make it sound more "emo." Those Fugazi fans who didn't like it were not going to find much joy going forward, either.

It's interesting to note the titles of the four albums I've talked about so far.  "13 Songs" is almost tongue in cheek, like a refusal to actually name the collection of songs from two EPs.  In Fugazi's mind, it wasn't even an album at all, but a compilation.

Apparently, "Repeater" wasn't just named after the song, but was a play on the Beatles "Revolver," since a revolver is both a type of gun and a recorded -- the same as a repeater.  What better sign is there of a band embracing their creative energies than by dropping an allusion like that?

But the playfulness of the first two albums disappears and we get "Steady Diet of Nothing."  Not exactly a shiny, happy album name.  And then what comes after that?  "In on the Killtaker."  It's like depression and aggression, back to back.

This was all a part of the evolution of Fugazi, and evolution that would grow by leaps in bounds on the next two records.

Discography: Fugazi, Part 3: Steady Diet of Nothing

I hadn't realized until this moment that I associate most Fugazi records with specific seasons. "13 Songs" was a winter album. "Repeater" was a summer album. "Steady Diet of Nothing" took me back to winter.

That's appropriate, given that winters where I grew up were long and boorish, a seemingly infinite slog of depression. "Steady Diet" is kind of like that.

"Steady Diet of Nothing" is my least favorite Fugazi album, mostly because there's so little variation to it.  The songs all have the same basic feel to them.  The dynamics that were building on "Repeater" seemed to take a back seat on this album. It felt like a much less adventurous album, as if the band had discovered a sound that they weren't quite sure about, but were willing to play over and over and over again in hopes of getting it right.  

Fugazi didn't evolve like I'd expected them to.

Don't get me wrong, "No Exit" has a nice climax, although it's so insubstantial up until that point that almost anything would have felt climatic.  "Reclamation" is a stand out, and more of the type of thing I was expecting from them given the songs on "Repeater."  But "Nice New Outfit" introduces a rhythmic guitar part that seems to show up in some form or another on multiple songs.  Coupled with the similar structure of a lot of the songs, the whole album feels monotone.

The songs aren't as dynamic as they were on the first two albums. Fugazi was always a band that could make the most out of one or two parts for an entire song, but there was never a lack of depth or complexity. Long Division" is a great song, but it's ostensibly one part over and over again, much the way "No Exit" was just two parts.  Everything's at the same tempo, all the songs are fairly simple.

"Nice New Outfit" to "Stacks" to "Latin Roots" could be the most redundant section of the record. The famous start/stop dueling guitars of Fugazi are on display, but it seems like they don't know how to use them yet.

There's also a darkness to this album.  There was a certain amount of punk rock joy on "13 Songs," and you could actually feel the creative excitement on "Repeater."  That seems to have been sapped for "Steady Diet of Nothing."

The successful songs on this record are the ones that have a hook of some kind. "Reclamation" is a classic, built around a singular guitar sound and a wonderful bass line. "Polish" is the culmination of what every other song on this record was trying to do. "KYEO" could have been on "Repeater." The duel vocals push the song forward and the alternate chorus elevates the song and the final few "we will not be beaten down" resonate in a way that nothing else on the album does.

Looking at this record as a piece of the entire Fugazi catalog, this might be the most transitional record they produced. You can see the germs of what would become the next record already beginning to form. The Fugazi sound was starting to materialize.

Let's face facts: a mediocre Fugazi record is still better than the majority of music out there, so this is by no means a bad album. But I was expecting something more.

I would get it in a big way with "In on the Killtaker."

Discography: Fugazi, Part 2: Repeater

If I had any doubts about how great Fugazi was, those were removed when I heard the title track on "Repeater."  The chorus is not remotely something you'd expect from anything resembling a punk band.  And that rhythm section?  Holy cow.  This was a band that clearly knew what they had in Joe Lally and Brendan Canty, and they knew enough to stay out of their way.

"Merchandise" and "Blueprint" could be the best back-to-back tracks on any Fugazi album. 

I got "Repeater" the summer of 1995, much of which I spent working two jobs. My mornings and afternoons were spent at a grocery store, my evenings were spent at a pizza place. While the pizza place was kind of cool and filled with other late teen/early 20s employees just looking to stay afloat and maybe afford some cheap beer, the grocery was one of a chain and felt very corporate.

I drove the delivery van for that grocery store. We had a bakery and there was a convenient store not far away that ordered fresh doughnuts every morning. Delivery was scheduled for 5:45AM (15 minutes before they opened). I woke up at 4:30AM for that job. There were days when I would work at that job until 2PM and then go to the job at the pizza place at 4PM, getting off work well after midnight. Thankfully, I managed to schedule shifts so that I never worked at the pizza place the night before I worked at the grocery store, although that certainly wasn't the case at the start.

I listened to a lot of Fugazi that summer.

"Merchandise" became an anthem for me, the last song I would listen to before arriving at the grocery store. 

For as much as I love "Merchandise," though, "Blueprint" quickly became my favorite song on the album. Yet another song with an anti-capitalism theme, "Blueprint" was less raging against the system and more feeling beaten down by the system. To this day, the ending gives me goosebumps.

And let's not forget the driving "Greed," which is ostensibly just two parts, yet still works, or the triumphant "Styrofoam."  Is "Reprovisional" cheating a little bit?  Maybe, but it's a great example of how the band had evolved in just two albums.  "Shut the Door" is a great follow-up to "Promises" from "13 Songs," and is another step in the dynamic intensity Fugazi was quickly excelling at.

"Repeater" (the album) is also noteworthy because it's the beginning of the duel guitar formation that would stick with them over the rest of their career.  Guy Picciotto quickly become an excellent song writer, and I think his influence on Ian McKaye pushed them both forward as guitarists.

"Repeater" was a big step forward from "13 Songs." As much as enjoyed that first album, it had a specific sound, a lot of palm muting and guttural vocals. But "Repeater" was Fugazi's statement record. "13 Songs" felt like a demo. "Repeater" was Fugazi making themselves known.

After two albums, I was hooked and I was prepared for "Steady Diet of Nothing" to move Fugazi even further forward.

Discography: Fugazi, Part 1: 13 Songs

Pearl Jam doesn't get enough credit.

I think every generation has those bands who are immensely popular and are very open about their not so popular influences.  Nirvana did the same thing, although they were, like most of Pearl Jam, more interested in promoting their fellow Seattle bands, the ones who had played big parts in their lives but weren't getting the same attention.

Eddie Vedder, lead singer of Pearl Jam, was vocal about his favorite bands.  He would go so far as to sing bits of their songs during concerts.

Way back in my high school days, I got my first ever bootleg.  It was a recording of Pearl Jam playing at a small club in Paard van Troje in the Netherlands.  It was, appropriately enough, called Pearl Jam: Small Club.

The 8th song of that show, after "Black" and before "Release," was a song that Pearl Jam, to my knowledge, never actually recorded, which is actually for the best, as it's not a particularly good song.  On the bootleg, it's titled "Saying No," and it's more or less about rape.  It's a four minute song and at the three minute mark, Eddie Vedder stops singing his own lyrics.  Instead, he sings the outro of a song called "Suggestion."

This was my introduction to Fugazi.

13 Songs

In the winter of '94, I had a CD player, but I didn't use it much.  I was still mostly listening to casettes, so that's what I bought: "7 Songs" (sometimes known as "Fugazi") by Fugazi which included not only the aforementioned "Suggestion," but "Waiting Room," which was, for whatever reason, Fugazi's best known song.  It was easily my favorite on that tape, although I loved "Bad Mouth" an awful lot, too.

Not long after that, I got "Margin Walker," the cassette that made up the other half of what is considered to be Fugazi's first album, "13 Songs."  "Margin Walker" solidified my enjoyment of Fugazi, as the songs began to become more complicated.  That opening to "Margin Walker" (the song), the bass line in "And the Same," the vocals in "Burning, Too" -- all great stuff.  And that's ignoring what was, I had been told, Fugazi's real classic, "Promises."

At this point in my life, I knew enough about guitar/bass/drums/vocals music to appreciate well crafted, creative songs when I heard them.  The only hesitance I really had to fully embracing Fugazi was Ian McKaye's voice.  His were not the polished vocals that I was used to.  Even the other non-mainstream bands I listened to (Jawbox, Sunny Day Real Estate, Velocity Girl) had, if not clear, than clean vocals.  McKaye sounded like he was grunting out his lyrics, which took some time for me to get used to.  Fortunately, I took to Guy Picciotto's vocals right away.

To this day, I can't hear "Waiting Room" without thinking about driving in nigh complete darkness, snow, and far below freezing temperatures to my job at a factor in Kent, Ohio. That was how I spent my winter break home from college, working the 6:00AM to 2:30PM shift on an assembly line making parts for semis. And there was something oddly appropriate about listening to Fugazi on the way there, a band which had done battle with capitalism throughout its existence, a band who most of assumed lived in squalor to stand for their beliefs.

Fugazi Margin Walker.jpg

Fugazi was working class punk rock when so many other punk rock bands seemed like they were still living off their parents.

For as liberal as they were, Fugazi spoke to my blue collar surroundings and helped me to realize that those to things were not antithetical. You could sit at a crimping machine attaching to parts together over and over again for eight hours a day, five days a week, and still believe that everyone should be treated equal, that social programs were important and should be funded, and that war was never the answer. Fugazi didn't just talk a good game, they lived it, and that came through in their music.

But as much as I liked "13 Songs," I didn't completely fall for Fugazi then.  No, that would happen when I got my hands on "Repeater."

So This Is the New Year: 2018 Edition

I'm going to end up writing this in two parts. I say that as if it's unusual, but it's not, since I normally write blog posts over the course of many days. It is rare, however, for me to know exactly how many times I will return to a post.

I'm going to write this in two parts because it's New Year's Eve and right now my wife is reading books to our son as he gets ready for bed. When she's done, I'll go in there, and after that I'll spend time with her, until she has to go to bed as tomorrow is her morning to get up with him. I will then no doubt slink back into my office to pick up where I left off.

It will be interesting (to me, at least) to see how different the two writing sessions are.

Anyway, it's New Year's Eve and when the aforementioned three year old asked me what it was, I used the phrase "arbitrary division of time" or the like. I know that this particular night doesn't mean anything. That said, I'm a big fan of taking stock of your life, something I generally do every other day or so. The fact that there's at least one night of the year when I'm not in the minority on that front is nice.

I could talk about 2017 but I'm wondering if that's better a) left to the more tired and probably tipsy me of later this evening or b) forgotten about. There are enough people writing about the awfulness that was this past year. Such awfulness makes it hard to be optimistic going into the new year.

I follow a comic book artist on Twitter (I follow a lot of them) who became a father last year and tonight he posted about how, even though 2017 was a phenomenally bad year, it was the best of his life.

That's how we get through it. When the big things are bad, we look to the little things to find good. There's a lot to find.

For me, I think the fact that I'm an uncle for a third time is the saving grace of this past year. I'm thrilled that Nicole's brother and his wife get to experience parenthood and I'm so happy that my son gets a new cousin not too far from his age.

Obviously, any year that I get to spend with my wife and son is a good one. There's a meme going around on Twitter to name the one thing you got to do this year that yourself from five years ago would be really excited about. I think I'd be overjoyed to learn that I spent the year playing with my son. He is an incredibly amazing and frustrating 3 year old that means everything to me.

It's hard to talk about the past year in a larger sense. I don't know anyone with a soul who hasn't seen their life negatively impacted, at least indirectly. I know I'm not qualified to accurately speak to it, so I'll leave it alone.

So what do we do about next year?

I've never really made new year's resolutions in part because I don't really try to do anything new, just better, but that's something I'm trying every single day. But I can get behind long term goals as resolutions. The idea should be "this is what I'm going to accomplish by the end of the year." And that should be followed by "and here's how," although I think it's safe to say that most people have yet to figure out that second part.

I divide my life into a few choice groups: my wife, my son, my writing, work, domestic duties, and free time. So it's easy for me to say I want to be a better husband, father, writer, and employee. It's not easy for me to actually do those things. And those are all vague ideas, anyway. So here's what I'm actually going to do:

  1. Have more family adventures
  2. Have more date nights
  3. Send my stories out
  4. Send my query letters out
  5. Be more diligent at work
  6. Help clean out the garage
  7. Get our cat's teeth cleaned
  8. Drink less*
  9. Clear one plate, two plates, and three plates in the Big 3
  10. Learn Spanish*

*I'm breaking my vagueness rule a bit with these two, I know. 

As for learning Spanish, it will probably take me all of 2018, so that's less a vague goal and more of a all encompassing one.

I suppose there's also another big issue:

 Comic by John Auchter, found here:

Comic by John Auchter, found here:

I'm going to try to be more active next year. I give money to a number of causes as it is, but next year is an election year so I need to get the vote out.

Next year is also the first year that I think my son will really understand Christmas, so my wife and I have already decided it will be time to incorporate giving to balance out the receiving. I think right now he's still too much of a toddler, still too much in the "me, me, me" phase to appreciate that lesson.

So there it is. There's my idea of the new year, at 11:44PM on the last day of the old one.

Oh, and one last goal: blog more. That's already been in the works for a few weeks now. Lucky you.

    What I said when my son asked me what make-up was

    I stopped myself.

    I almost answered with the first thing that came into my head, but made a change before anything came out of my mouth. That change was not using the word "women."

    I'm assuming he heard the term "make-up" from my wife, probably that morning as she was getting ready for work, which meant he had to ask me about it on the way to school. So, of course, my wife was on my mind when I started to answer. But I managed to modify my answer before it came out of my mouth.

    "Make-up is something people put on their face to make it look different," was my answer, or at least as close to it as I can remember.

    "Do you remember that clip we saw of the boy whose face was made to look like Rubble? That was make-up."

    Rubble is a member of the Paw Patrol and the clip was on the Nick, Jr. app. It was a short video of a make-up artist painting the boy to look like Rubble, a dog.

    It's a legitimate question to ask why I stopped myself. At the time, it was because I don't want my son to grow up assuming that only women can wear make-up. I don't honestly know any men that wear make-up, but I know they exist and I don't want my son thinking of them any differently.

    But afterwards, I realized that I was more concerned about the idea of teaching him that women wear make-up. Yes, women can wear make-up, just like men can wear make-up, but they don't HAVE to. I mean, socially speaking they do which is a problem, but I want him to know that it's not something he should assume.

    I realize, of course, that his 3 year old brain will probably not hold on to my explanation. And, really, my answer was less for him than for me. It forced me to think about the answer.

    I'm trying my hardest not to instill in him the same assumptions that were introduced to me growing up. To say that my father was opinionated would be an understatement, but I know I have that within me, too. I have very strong opinions and I'm not shy about sharing them. But I don't want to put any of that on my son. I want him to walk into the world with as few preconceived notions as possible.

    I'm left wondering how often such issues are going to come up (frequently) and how well I'm going to deal with them. I caught myself this time, but what if I don't the next?

    Which is, I think, why it's important that I did catch myself this time, even though my son is only three. This is practice. This is preparation for the coming years when he takes my comments to heart, when my opinions start to influence his way of thinking.

    I think the fact that I'm thinking about any of this at all is a good sign.

    I had a really great conversation about Jesus

    I suppose it's rare in this day and age to have enlightening, intellectually stimulating conversations with people who hold different beliefs than you. But it happened. And it has stuck with me.

    The person I was talking to is a Christian, a liberal Christian, who was raised in the faith and who has built her life around it. She is the real deal. She was talking to me about how she got through some hard times in her life.

    She mentioned that, for her, Jesus is the embodiment of God's love, and since fear is the opposite of love, living in fear means moving away from God. Since she wanted to live with God, she regularly chooses to reject fear and embrace love.

    Her roommate in college was a religious studies major and she kind of implied something even more interesting: that Jesus was the idea of love, a concept given physical form.

    This fascinates me.

    I'm not Christian and, for the record, I don't think Jesus ever existed. The few documents that would "verify" such a thing were very clearly written well after Christianity was established, inserted into older texts in an effort to legitimize what the Roman government was trying to install.

    But what if that didn't matter?

    Let's consider Jesus as the idea of love, an idea that is often too abstract for people to grasp, so someone, somewhere, decided to create an embodiment of love, a person for those who have trouble with the idea of love. He's an avatar. He's only real in the sense that some people need him to be real to translate a language that is normally foreign to them -- that language being love.

    Love isn't exactly an easy concept to accept or even understand, particularly these days. It's not a priority, not for the majority of us. I can't imagine it's ever been, given that humans have been fighting for centuries just to survive. What good is love when you're struggling to get by? Can you eat it? Can it buy you a warm bed? Will it protect you from bullets?

    Hell, I have lived an incredibly privileged life and for most of that love was for hippies and people who didn't know any better. The idea of love as a powerful force in the universe that could alter our entire reality? Smoke another bowl, hippie.

    But it's true. I realize that love still doesn't help people who are hungry or homeless or bombarded by bombs. But it would if it convinced others to love. Love would help them if the rest of society took care of each other, if we stopped making war and started building a world. And that's the thing with love; its impact isn't always direct, so it's often easy to dismiss.

    Love is an abstract concept, yet we all have an idea of what it is. It is often not the same idea and that can be a problem.

    And so we have Jesus, ostensibly created not just to give people a manifestation of love that they can believe in, but to also create a universal definition for love.

    I think that's great.

    I have no problems with people choosing to believe in something that I don't. I am the last person who will ever question belief, who will ever condemn faith. My entire life has revolved around having blind faith in myself, even when I shouldn't.

    I have my concerns about the foundations of Christianity and I have many, many issues with how it currently operates, but I am all for a central concept of love that is actually love. I'm all for people being able to embrace that even if it requires a magical being.

    I just wish that concept of universal love was actually universal.

    YouTube is ruining our children

    My son calls YouTube "The Red" because the screen with the logo when you open the app is red. "I want to watch something on The Red," he says.

    I hate The Red.

    I won't, for a minute, complain that YouTube is ruining my child because I have the ability to do exactly what I did this afternoon -- remove the app from our Roku. I told my son that The Red had gone away and that was answer enough for him.

    For what it's worth, The Red had gone away before, but my wife accidentally stumbled across it again while looking for a Disney app and my son saw it and presto! Cries for The Red started up all over again.

    The shockingly elaborate videos of people making stories with various action figures are fine. Some of them are really well done. And, honestly, what could be cooler than seeing different types of toys interacting. Nothing beats seeing Lightning McQueen on an adventure with the Paw Patrol.

    Those types of videos are only a problem because they are of random and various lengths of time. The nice thing about a regular old cartoon is that I can say to my son, "one episode while I make dinner" and I know exactly how much time I have to get food on the table - and he knows exactly when he'll have to stop.

    No, the problem is the "kids getting toys" genre of YouTube video.

    I could suggest that kids watching other kids getting a ton of new toys is a bad thing if only because it makes them want those new toys for themselves. But, again, I can control these things. The Red went away. I'm an adult.

    No, the children who are being ruined by YouTube are the ones IN the videos.

    I cannot even fathom how ill-equipped for reality these children are going to be as they get older. The sky is the limit for what incredible d-bags they could become. We are going to have to come up with new words for their degree of entitlement -- megatitlement, perhaps. These videos are just that crazy.

    And while some of these videos may be filled with toys that were sent to these families by their respective manufacturers, that doesn't change the fact that these kids are still being spoiled rotten. Two dozen new Paw Patrol toys are still two dozen new Paw Patrol toys regardless of who pays for them.

    Manufacturers will only send free toys to people who make videos with a certain number of subscribers. So not only are these children spoiled, but they are internet famous, which cannot be a healthy combination.

    Basically, YouTube is creating a small army of small jerks.

    But I suppose there's a silver lining in there, at least for the rest of us. Yes, I deleted The Red and yes, my son looks for it every day and yes, I feel a little bit like a jerk myself for stealing it from him. But I'm his father and every once in a while I really do know what's best.

    And even if I didn't, I'd still be a much, much better parent than the people who are putting their kids on YouTube.

    We should talk about the JOY of parenthood more often

    Nicole's brother and his wife are expecting their first child any day. It could be starting right now, to be honest. I'm going to be an uncle again, although this time by marriage and not blood, while Nicole gets to be an aunt by blood for the first time.

    Weeks ago, we had a baby shower for the expectant couple and it was good. But I noticed something. All of the people who already had children would make jokes and comments about how hard it was, how little sleep you get, how paranoid you become, on and on. And all of those things are true. Misery loves company and there should be a hazing period. Besides, while it might not do anything at all to actually prepare new parents for what's to come, it at least gives them some vague idea.

    After the party, I told Nicole that her brother and his wife have no idea what's about to happen to them, but not for negative reasons. They can't know what it's like to have that tiny little person enter your life. There is another level of love that happens. It is unlike anything I'd ever experienced.

    Now, I think Nicole's brother and his wife have a leg up on me in that they have large families and at least have some concept of what this love might be like. But it's not something you can really know until you experience it. It is unique in a world where so few things truly are.

    It's overpowering and overwhelming and unbelievable and glorious. Our son being born gave my life new meaning, not that the old one has gone away or was bad. But it doesn't hold a candle to where my focus lies these days.

    But we don't really mention this side of having a child to soon-to-be parents. It's mostly jokes about diapers and delirium. There's so much comedic content to those first few weeks, at least in hindsight, that it seems to be all we talk about.

    You can't prepare for the hard parts, but you can at least have an idea of what you're getting into. You have no way of knowing what the great parts will be like. It is incomprehensible to anyone who hasn't experienced it. And it is impossible to explain.

    There's the answer.

    We don't really talk about it because we can't. There's no frame of reference. We can make comparisons to other times when someone got no sleep or we can describe how disgusting it can be in awful detail, but there's no shared language between those with kids and those without when it comes to the joy of it.

    While I'm thinking about my brother-in-law and his wife and those awful, terrifying first few weeks, I'm also thinking about how amazing it will be. I'm wondering if it will hit them the way it hit me. I know that it is going to be great and that they have no idea how great it will be.

    They are about to experience something wonderful and I'm so happy for them.

    And while I didn't need it, it reminds me how incredibly lucky I am.

    Live! Music!

    The first concert I ever attended was at Kent State University. It was a double bill, with Tesla and Great White. Some band called Badlands opened. Shut up. It was the 80's.

    I remember that I didn't wear my glasses because I thought I might lose them and probably because I thought they were severely uncool, which I would have been right about. The venue at Kent State was big, but it was all the bigger for an 8th grader who couldn't see very well. The bands were blurry little shapes on a supposed stage down below.

    It might be hard to believe, but this was not when the live music bug bit me.

    No, that would happen a few years later, when I started listening to a band called The Afghan Whigs. An awful lot of components went into that show to make it great. It was Friday, June 24th, 1994, the summer after I graduated from high school. The Ass Ponies opened up. I drove to Cleveland with my best friends in the whole world to see a band that we all really liked and who happened to actually be from Ohio. During the show, someone in the back threw a beer at the stage and it covered my friend, Tony, who then had to drive us home smelling like beer, which would have been fine, had we not gotten pulled over about two minutes from my house.

    I didn't actually own any music by the Afghan Whigs. At that point, I think I'd been listening to a tape I dubbed from someone else, which was, I would imagine, of questionable quality. Before leaving for college, I went to a record store and decided I needed a Whigs CD. I bought the single for "What Jail Is Like" because it featured two live tracks.

    A year later, those same friends and I went to see the Afghan Whigs in Cleveland again. Eddie Murray hit his 3,000th hit that night (June 30th, 1995) and Greg Dulli, the lead singer for the Whigs and half the reason why their live shows are so amazing, actually stopped to say something about it.

    Live music played a big part of my life after that first Afghan Whigs show. Four or five hour drives were nothing for me if a band I liked was playing. I saw my favorite bands multiple times, sometimes over just a few days. It became something of an obsession with me. I collected ticket stubs. I made lists of the songs I saw live, in the order they were performed.  It got to the point that I could predict what song a band was about to play based upon which guitars they were using.

    Los Angeles was great for live music.  The Troubadour is the best music venue I've ever been to and I went to my fair share of shows there.  And, of course, everyone came through Los Angeles.  No matter how big or small the band, they all played a show somewhere in Los Angeles when they were on tour.

    I went to Coachella in 2005.  I was done with festivals after that.  I'd already given up on really big shows, and while the side stages at Coachella were nice, there were just too many damn people.

    That should have been the first sign.

    I started getting old.  Standing through opening bands, the main band, and an encore was becoming harder and harder for my already fragile frame.  My feet hurt.  My lower back hurt.  I just wanted a nice, comfy couch.

    A few weeks after Nicole and I moved to the Bay area, we went to see Blind Pilot play at the Great American Music Hall. I think it was my effort to ease the pain of leaving a city and moving to the suburbs.  The show was on a week night.  We got home late and got up early for work.  I was still young, dammit.  I was still going to shows.

    It would be another five years before I made it to another live show and it was entirely due to a visit from our friends Matt and Meghan. These were friends we'd made in Los Angeles, friends we'd been to shows with before. Their visit happened to coincide with a Nada Surf show in San Francisco, and Nada Surf just happened to be a band we all had in common (entirely my fault).

    That was almost two years ago. It was the last show I went to. A part of that is because we don't live in the city, so we'd have to drive a good ways to get to shows.  That could be the thing I miss most about living in Los Angeles: everything was conveniently located.

    Then there's the simple fact that my priorities have changed. I love being able to say goodnight to my son when he goes to bed, just as I know he loves saying it to me. And my night time hours are so precious now, almost too precious to spend going to a show which will only make my ears ring and my back hurt.

    It seems to me that the older I get, the more I streamline my life.  Live music didn't make the most recent cut.  At the very least, my feet are thankful for that.

    The Introvert Parent

    There are roughly a million articles online discussing the common characteristics shared by introverts. I suppose introverts are the ones sitting around writing all day, so that's probably why there seem to be a disproportionate amount of articles about them.

    There's usually a reference of some kind or another to something I'll call the gas tank. The idea, as it goes, is that introverts can be just a social as anyone else, but that they have a limited amount of energy to do so. It's like a gas tank that, once empty, takes a long, long time to refill, and there will be no socializing until the tank is at F.

    This isn't just applicable to socializing. It applies to anything that requires a lot of mental or emotional energy, anything that requires interacting with anyone other than ourselves. And it's a very real thing. It is very often the bane of my existence.

    I'm not moody, I'm an introvert.

    What's difficult, then, is realizing that the time you spend with your child is siphoning the tank.

    I love my son more than I can possibly explain and I love spending time with him. But it is exhausting; it would be exhausting for an extrovert, let alone an introvert.

    That's hard to reconcile, because no one wants to think of the time they spend with their child as being a problem.

    I don't know how it is with other introverts, but I also have a habit of burning brightly when I engage with people. I am all in and often over the top. I'm a man of extremes and when I'm switched on I will be as on as is humanly possible.

    With my son, at least, I'm choosing to be that way, but the end result is still the same. Whereas I might actually enjoy interacting with my son, I'm still tapped dry. And I never burn brighter or hotter than when I'm choosing to.

    It's a difficult realization to come to, the idea that something you ostensibly love doing (spending time with your child) can also be sucking you dry.

    To follow the metaphor to its end, I need time to refill my tank. But being a parent means not having a ton of time for yourself, which means refilling can be that much harder -- and take that much longer.

    If I had a dollar for every time I said to myself that I needed to start going to bed earlier then I could quit my day job and I'd have plenty of time to refill. As it is those few hours after my son falls asleep are the only time I'm able to prepare myself for the next day, and that time is often not enough.

    I'm regularly running past F and after a few days or weeks of that, I start to lose it.

    It seems like a simple matter of being overwhelmed, of thinking that perhaps the work/life balance is off or the division of labor is off. Or maybe my son is just having a hard time lately or maybe I'm just moody for some other reason that I can't put my finger on yet because I'm painfully oblivious to my own emotions. The reality, though, is that I've been running on empty for days and I've reached my limit.

    So I try to take long lunches at work. I try to leave early. I try to steal a few extra quiet moments to keep myself afloat.

    And I try to make sure my son never sees me grinding to a halt.